January 5, 2012

A Postmodernist Nightmare: The Gospel & Righteousness

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,  just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17

The ultimate theme of the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed in its clear delineated clarity.

Postmodernist philosophy is utterly incompatible with and flies in the face of the Gospel and righteousness for that very reason: clarity. In the Gospel there is a revelation or revealing of God’s ways and demands for righteousness or being correct in God's eyes. Paul’s description of righteousness here is based in faith and presented to humans due to acceptance of Christ’s work on the Cross and Resurrection by faith.

Habakkuk 2:4 “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

We must look closely at the Old Testament understanding of righteousness. This is the basis of Paul’s understanding when he writes the beginning of Romans. The ideas of righteous and wickedness among the Hebrews are criminological or justice based ideas based in absolutes and that is exactly why it becomes incompatible with postmodernist thought that says we cannot truly discern truth or absolute truths in particular from an ancient text like the Bible. This is ludicrous, as Scripture, when dealing with the topic is specifically written in black and white judicial or criminological terms. Guilty or not guilty, good or bad.

Israelites or Hebrews always thought in terms of establishing justice or right and wrong in the presence of a judge (God). Righteousness in the Jewish mindset is not so much ethical delineation or moral uprightness so much as it is a litigious status before an Almighty God.

“Righteous” in Hebrew is: צַדִּיק / (t)saddiyq and means “just” or “maintains right”

“Wicked” in Hebrew is רָשָׁע / rasha and means “guilty” or “criminal” or “in the wrong”

One verse covers both of these words in the Old Testament:

"Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones." Exodus 9:27

God is righteous and we are not, so when Roman’s opens with the description of the Gospel it is shown that man whether Jew or Gentile are sinners and they need to become right or like God since they are fallen in their sin and incapable of performing acts of righteousness. By God actually creating a situation through His Son to allow for man to become righteous, God righteousness is thereby put on full display. God is glorified. This righteousness is accredited to the sinner through a divinely ordained process initiated and carried out by God Himself. God brings (drags) people to Him and aligns them to Him in His justice by justifying them. He “makes them right(ous)” through faith that is required throughout Scripture.

“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Habakkuk 2:4

This judicial division of black and white especially in Romans sits very poorly with postmodernists who wish desperately to view the world through a fuzzy lens. A lens that they believe time and cultural adjustment continues to cloud. Not so in Romans. Not so in Paul’s writing in general. When it comes to the Gospel there are two types of people in Paul’s thinking according to 1 Corinthians and Romans. There are those who are saved that are earmarked by the Holy Spirit for salvation, saved by the word of the Cross through faith or those perishing in their sins through lack of faith

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” Romans 8:24

“…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:2

Let us take this even further down the path started by the idea and word faith. If one looks closely at the Habakkuk passage and the word אמונה / faith. In the Septuagint LXX the word is πίστις /pistis. It is a common word that means fidelity. In the context of Habakkuk and Romans what fidelity is it referring to? Fidelity to the belief that God is faithful to His promises and fulfills what He promises, faith in the work of the Cross. The faith in the Old Testament in Habakkuk is him crying out under the oppression of evil and the promise that God would rectify it. It was also the idea along these same lines that people believed that God’s promised Messiah would come (who would remove the yoke of sin and evil permanently). Faith in the New Testament is that God’s Messiah has come. It is a reciprocating kind of faith. It is a fidelity or harmonization to God in the overall holistic picture. Paul appears to borrow this from Habakkuk for this exact purpose and apply it to justification in Christ…a legal term. We are no longer under the penalty of sin thanks to the fact that we are justified in Christ because of faith in Him. True life—Eternal life begins here…at justification a litigious status in Christ. It then progresses forward through a joint process with the Holy Spirit called sanctification or a process of making one’s self holy until culmination in glorification…

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:30

All of these are clear systematic statements. Clear systematic, sequential, linear statements. What is worse for the postmodernist is that these statements also tie the Old and New Testament together in continuity and make sense of what would’ve appeared to be a partially untied loose end from Habakkuk and aligns it with Jesus Christ. This alignment causes fidelity between the two testaments and between the believer(s) and God. We can incorporate even more concrete unambiguous factors into the equation when we see the state of man’s fallen condition. Since sin is universal it applies to all people. You are either saved and have life or you are not saved and are perishing. This too is also clearly outlined in Romans 1-3. It encompasses all people not an ill-defined human mass with unclear boundaries. We know who Paul is talking about.

These are clear unambiguous statements that anyone can understand about salvation in the ramp up phase of Romans. They make postmodernists squirm because they force an absolute on their thinking. Because this damages or destroys their worldview they prefer to change the style of interpretation. Postmodern theologians know they cannot change the word of God without an uproar so they often opt to change the hermeneutic or alter the filter through which they read the text. They do this by redefining terms and deconstructing word meanings. They can also try and read the early phases of Romans as some form of poetic metaphor or some other ridiculously inappropriate form of interpretive analyzing rather than the theological expositions they are meant to be.

Unfortunately, this is done a lot today and not just to the Bible. If people cannot force an idea into the text because it is absolutely clear like night and day, they begin to redefine the terms or change the science of interpretation to make the text say what they want it to say rather than adhere to eons of interpretative techniques and tradition. New is not always better. Often what many claim is new is just an old error or heresy recycled under a new name.

The absolute nature of the “Hebrew” righteousness is not allowable in the postmodernist’s worldview. They may claim they understand it but their belief system will not allow them to accept it as it is a stark judgment of right or wrong. In this worldview…some will have to be wrong or wicked. Most postmodernists are pluralists by their very nature being both of these things, they do not want to see anyone perish so they will become inclusive and flirt the line with universalism if not falling into universalism outright. In their view: No one is ever truly wrong. If they are wrong it is only relative to another person since there are no absolute truth claims allowed. If they cannot get past this argument because the text will not let them they will then begin to debate and argue the existence of eternal punishment or deny the existence of a place of eternal torment: Hell. Their method of interpretation is a slippery slope. If they stay on it they need to continue further and further down the line to deny Scripture or some truth thereof in Scripture to support their main argument that there can be no absolutes. Otherwise they eventually see the light and drift away from postmodernism because they eventually realize that their argument is not supportable without extraordinary contextual or wordage gymnastics. It dawns on many (and I have been witness to this) that many postmodernist reach a point where their arguments either become too tenuous to hold on to or they become so absurd that a child realizes they are ridiculous and commonsense takes over.

They come to their senses and come to grips with the fact that absolute truths have to exist. This fact is the first hurdle cleared to believing in an absolutely infinite and infinitely just God and gets them halfway to a belief in the God in the Bible. Sometimes the unbeliever does a lot of the work of evangelism for me if I can just get them to think for themselves and stop listening to every unreasoned and illogical argument fed to them by the media, the culture, their friends and even their unbelieving families.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts and we must meet them on all.

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